“Things are rarely ‘just crazy enough to work,’ but they’re frequently just crazy enough to fail hilariously.” —Rand Munroe, XKCD
One of my favorite aspects of certain types of fantasy is that they’re willing to take obsolete pseudosciences like alchemy, necromancy, astrology, auguries, etc, and make them into powerful supernatural forces in their world. This isn’t to say that I think any of these fields should be taken seriously by modern society—I just find the idea of their earnest application mildly hilarious.
The nameless alchemist shown here was painted by digital artist Florian Stitz for Privateer Press’s miniatures war game, Warmachine. I’ve not played Warmachine, and so only know the basic details from the website: that it’s a steampunk fantasy war game with multiple factions with dozens of units to choose from. I don’t know if alchemists are specific to one faction or if alchemy is something universal that any side can take advantage of. Regardless, I think the use of alchemy in a steampunk fantasy world is kind of awesome.
The aspect that I like best about this image is that it’s not at all the quintessential artist’s representation of alchemical experimentation. She’s not the wrinkled old witch stooped over her bubbling cauldron, nor is she the sexy sorceress mixing hazardous materials while wearing Elvira’s hand-me-downs. No indeed, our flaxy-haired alchemist looks both well-protected and highly professional in regards to her craft. I have no idea what she’s brewing, but I doubt you could pick it up over-the-counter at Rite Aid.
As a professional working with potentially dangerous materials, it’s vital that she knows to layer up while on the job. The lowest visible layer is a heavy work shirt, padded at the elbows, likely made of thick wool or something similarly protective. Layer second is a thick leather jerkin for torso protection. Note that the sleeves on her jerkin are short, allowing her arms freedom of movement. The outer layer is a padded apron, either quilted or soft leather. I think a lot of people underestimate the protectiveness of quilted armor, in terms of its ability to absorb impacts and deflect glancing shrapnel. Whether quilted or layered leather, the apron is studded as well, meaning that the rivets we see on the exterior are holding on metal disks or plates sewn into the apron for additional protection against explosive impacts or flying glass. It’s also not improbable that the apron also has a thin chain or scale mesh sewn into its layers as well.
The thick, heavy leather gloves are equally important when pouring explosive or caustic substances from her pestle into a beaker. (Something tells me that some of the substances she works with require her gloves be burned after use.) The goggles, on top of being suitably steampunk, help protect her eyes from toxic gasses, broken glass, combustive chemicals, and possibly blinding flashes. Part of me wonders if this is enough facial protection, or if she’d be better off wearing a respirator or a welding mask as well.
And you thought your job was hazardous.